The hunt for 5,000 taxa before 20,000 observations

This is a bit frivolous and arbitrary, but having recently crossed the 19,000 observation threshold, I am trying to observe 5,000 identified taxa before I hit 20,000 observations. If I understand correctly how iNaturalist counts taxa, I am currently (as of 7/23/19) sitting at 19,018 verifiable observations and 4,644 identified taxa above the subspecies level (of which, 4,032 have been identified as species). That means that for my next 1,000 or so observations, I need to observe and identify ~350 taxa that I haven't before, or about 1 new taxa for every 3 observations. That will be difficult for me!


Recent new-to-me taxa (clockwise from top left): Banded Sexton Beetle (Nicrophorus investigator), Salmon Louse (Lepeophtheirus salmonis), Ixodes angustus, Dark Marbled Carpet (Dysstroma citrata).

I am generally someone who enjoys (and believes in the community value of) documenting the same species multiple times. I have been known to encourage others to "observe everything!" (cc @judygva) When I first joined iNat, it was obviously the easiest to record a new-to-me species, and it generally becomes more challenging to observe new taxa after finding the most conspicuous, charismatic, and camera-friendly species at a site. In 2011 and before, I was observing and identifying a new taxa every 1.66 observations. From 2012-2015, I averaged a new taxa about every 5 observations. From 2016 to now, I become a bit more selective, traveled to several new areas, and averaged a new taxa about every 4 observations. If I want to achieve my goal of identifying 5,000 taxa before I cross the 20,000 observation threshold, I am going to need to step up my identification game, practice more restraint in observing previously documented taxa, stop neglecting other taxa, and visit some new habitats and sites.


Recent new-to-me taxa (clockwise from top left): Rusty Tussock Moth (Orgyia antiqua), Falsehorn Flies (Genus Temnostoma), Four-spotted Skimmer (Libellula quadrimaculata), Northern Red-banded Yellowjacket (Vespula intermedia).

Here's my plan to strive for quality over quantity:
-- Spend a couple days tide pooling in Seldovia. Goal: 30-40 new taxa.
-- I don't know this is true, but my sense is that passively, I gain a net of about 1-4 new taxa per week from the iNat community reviewing my old observations. So over the next couple months or so, I would estimate a net gain of ~20-30 new taxa.
-- Identify ~100 new taxa reviewing my old observations and adding new observations from my photo archive.
-- Pick up ~200 new taxa in S Texas in <500 observations. cc @finatic @sambiology @treegrow so that they can keep me on point.

Posted by muir muir, July 24, 2019 04:16

Comments

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Keep it up! That is awesome. I have a current goal of a 1000 species. I don’t have a observation number to coincide with that. I have a lot to learn and with having the whole of species of life seems daunting for me. I need to work on better pics for insects and up my game for plants. I will start taking pictures of leaf shape in my plant observations as I have not yet focused on that. I have not seen any bird posting from you and I think it is you who began with that. Anyway, I am sure you will make it:). You seem to really enjoy this.

Posted by onekoolkid0 over 1 year ago (Flag)
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Thanks Anthony @onekoolkid0. You can get to 1000! It's not an easy challenge -- so far only two observers have reached that mark for Alaskan observations (both in SE) -- but it's a worthy goal to strive for. I'm shooting for 500 AK taxa this year, although I don't think I'm going to get there....

Posted by muir over 1 year ago (Flag)
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I meant a 1000 over all not just AK. But considering you thought, 500 seems reasonable. Already over 100. In addition, I have a planned trip to Ecuador 🇪🇨. I am sure that will add greatly to this.

Posted by onekoolkid0 over 1 year ago (Flag)
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A one-month update: I am currently (as of 8/26/19) sitting at 19,247 verifiable observations (+228 observations from 7/23 to 8/23) and 4,746 identified taxa above the subspecies level (+102 new taxa since 7/23). Of that 102 new taxa, approximately 27 of the new taxa originate from identifications of pre-7/23/19 observations (largely from the iNat community reviewing and refining the ID of my old observations) and 75 new taxa originate from observations I've made in the past month (largely from my Seldovia trip and benefiting from hanging around tide pools and @mckittre). So, I think that puts me almost exactly on track of my goal about 1 new taxa for every 3 observations. (228 observations / 75 new taxa = 3.04 observations per new taxa). If I could restrain myself from observing bumblebees, I might even have a better ratio! Alas....

One thing I did underestimate is new taxa gained by the iNat community reviewing old observations. Instead of 1-4 new taxa per week, the average has been 6.75 new taxa per week. If that sort of passive gain continues (at say 6 new taxa/wk), I should be somewhere around 4,782 taxa at the start of my Texas trip, and lined up to cross 20k observation and 5k taxa if I submitted a new taxa every 3.2 observations. (again, this is all a bit frivolous and arbitrary navel gazing at my own observations)

Posted by muir over 1 year ago (Flag)
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The (almost) 3-month update: I am on well on my way to break the 5k taxa barrier before 20k observations! Currently (as of 10/18/19) at 19,488 verifiable observations and 4,900 taxa. Since 8/23, I've made 50 observations in the field, including ~15 new-to-me taxa, and added 204 observations from my photo archive, including ~113 taxa that have so far been identified new-to-me. [The numbers don't match up perfectly to above stats because I deleted a bunch of observations with poor quality images, etc.] A couple years ago, I had a bunch of old slides, negatives and prints from my South America days scanned, and I finally got around to uploading them. Fun to remember that time period.

About 25 new taxon records for me have been added by the iNat community reviewing and refining the ID of my older observations, at about a rate of 3-4 per week. So, to achieve 5000 taxa, I need about 100 new-to-me taxa, but have a little more than 500 observations to go. That translates into a new taxa to observation ratio of 1:5, well within reach of my recent history since 2016 of adding a new taxa every 4 observations. I did well by observing more new-to-me taxa while tide-pooling in Seldovia than I thought I might, and slightly underestimating the number of taxa, hidden and neglected in my photo archive. Since my Texas trip has been momentarily postponed, and the season has turned cold in Alaska, I don't expect to be adding large batches of observations any time soon.

Posted by muir over 1 year ago (Flag)
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~5 month update (as of 12/16/19): 19,500 observation and 4,941 taxa. In two months, I've only added a baker's dozen of observations, but have gained 41 taxa to my cumulative list. Three of the thirteen observations I've added since 10/18/19 have been splitting old observations (all with multiple taxa represented in the image), recording 3 new taxa for me. Of the ten novel observations I've added since 10/18, two new-to-me taxa were recorded: a false pinion moth and a Trichaptum fungus. So, of the 41 new taxa since 10/18, that would leave 36 new taxa identified from my older observations. Again, 36 taxa/8 weeks, that's around 4.5 new taxa per week identified from old observations. That rate has been basically consistent since August: 3 to 7 new taxa per week.

In summary, since 7/23, about 88 new-to-me taxa have been added from the iNat community reviewing and identifying my old observations, and about 208 new-to-me taxa via new observations (including ~116 taxa harvested from my photo archive + ~95 from recent observations). The math doesn't add up perfectly, but that's about 4.4 new taxa per week from the iNat community and 10.4 new taxa per week from new observations. To hit 5,000 taxa over the next 500 observations, the target ratio of new taxa to observations has jumped to 1 : 8.5.

If I didn't add a single new observation, the iNat community might help me make my goal by the first week of April (i.e., 13 weeks of 4.4 new taxa being identified from my old observations).

Posted by muir over 1 year ago (Flag)
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Nice to see someone else diving into the numbers a bit!

Personally, I'm pretty fixated on my local area (Sitka), and have so far resisted posting anything from outside Southeast Alaska, so although I have nearly 20k observations, I'm nowhere near 5k species.

It's taken me three+ years (mostly working on it in the winter), but I think this one will be the one I finally finish getting all my old (Southeast Alaska) photos into iNaturalist as observations. I only have 2016 and 2017 left to finish up - I was actively using iNaturalist both years, but have plenty of photos that didn't make it in at the time.

New species are getting more difficult to find - not that there is any lack of possibilities even within a few miles of my house, but the challenge is learning to see what's there and then getting IDs. I do have a streak of at least one new species added (date of observation upload) per month going back to December 2015 that I will try to maintain as long as I can, but it might get tough after this coming year (with no older observations to add).

@onekoolkid0 - I have an affinity for 1000 species-style goals, and certainly encourage you to give it a try. I know you said you're looking to do it around the world, which is great, however I would also encourage you to do as much as you can in your home area. It certainly is possible to get a full 1000 species entirely within in Southcentral Alaska. I know I've really enjoyed exploring and really getting to know my place better on my quest to discover new-to-me species. I like to think of it as 'getting to know the neighbors' and/or learning to see what's around me.

That said, based on my experience, it does take a fair amount of time and it certainly goes faster if you can get out with different people who are reasonably good with things like intertidal organisms, plants, mosses/liverworts, insects, lichens, or fungi. I know when I've gone out with experts, I often get quite a few new-to-me species in even just a couple of hours in the field.

The first time I tried for 1000 species (back in 2007), I set a goal of getting that many in a year. I got nowhere close, and it took a couple of additional tries before I unambiguously accomplished it in 2017.

Along the way I tried to keep track of when I reached 1000 species cumulative (across years), but until I started using iNaturalist, I had a hard time tracking things very well. Based on how I was tracking things at the time, I first knew I had made 1000 species by March 2015, but with all the old photos/observations I put in iNaturalist going back to the 90s, I can now see I actually passed 1000 total unique taxa sometime in 2009.

One thing I learned about getting 1000 species in my home area is that it's hardest do the first time - after that it starts to get much easier. There is plenty of diversity around to observe, it just takes time to learn to recognize it. I felt like I pushed hard in 2017 to get over 1000 species, but in 2018 and 2019 I was able to observe over 1000 unique taxa each year, and it didn't feel so difficult. (To be clear, I was not finding 1000 new things each year.)

My next personal out-there goal is to be able to get 1000 species in a day. I think it should be possible, but I'm not sure if I will manage it. There are certainly 1000+ species to be found in the area where I live at any given time (especially in summer), but the logistics of finding and documenting that many seem difficult.

My earliest attempts at this goal involved visiting several different habitats (from alpine to intertidal) and taking advantage of the lack of overlap in species to accumulate higher totals. However, that requires a fair amount of time spent covering ground (walking or driving) and not making observations. For this challenge, time is at a premium, even during the long days of summer in Alaska. So, for this as well as aesthetic reasons, I've been drifting towards focusing on fewer habitats in a smaller area, but really focusing on getting as much as I can out of each one. If I really lean hard into this latter approach, I might try to do a walking (or maybe allow for a bicycle) big day starting at my house.

Posted by gwark over 1 year ago (Flag)
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1000 unique taxa in 24 hours -- I'm in awe of your ambition @gwark. I was thinking more about this today. That's about 42 unique taxa per hour. Have you give much thought on how you would try to split up your daylight hours among habitats -- eg 3 hours intertidal + 2 hrs alpine + etc?

Posted by muir over 1 year ago (Flag)
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Yes, I'm not sure I'll ever make it just from a pure logistics perspective.

I have not really considered how much time specifically in each habitat - but am fairly convinced that I should take maximum advantage of low tide at the most diverse convenient location I can find. That's probably at least 3-4 hours for the morning tide.

An open question is whether I should also try to hit a different beach for the second low tide of the day (in the summer, lowest tides in a given tide series are around 7-8am here, and we get two low tides a day, so it's possible to hit both in daylight). I'm sure I would get additional species, but I don't know if it would be more than I might get by focusing on terrestrial habitats.

Beyond that, currently I'm thinking the trip to alpine is not worth the cost in time. There is a road to alpine, but it takes at least 20 minutes each way to drive, and to maximize species count in the alpine, I would need to do a fair amount of walking, with the most obvious walk an out and back. (As an aside, there is a version of this where I am not necessarily maximizing my chances to get 1000, but instead just do the best I can starting at the beach for low tide, then walking up the mountain (on the road) and taking the trail back to the other end (which is near my house), and walking home, making observations all along the way. It may still be possible to get 1000 species, but I think it would take longer to achieve the goal.)

On my biggest day so far (my second attempt, July 2018 - 510 unique taxa) I actually hiked out the evening before and spent the night up high, then observed as I walked back to the parking lot. Unfortunately, I ended up being later for the tide than optimal.

On my third attempt (early August 2019), I didn't go to the alpine at all, but made sure to maximize my time with low tide. Although this attempt had a later start (by an hour and a half), and was interrupted a bit by logistics/lunch with my family, I still managed 476 unique taxa, which was close enough to my 510 taxa day, that it seemed like I might have surpassed it if I had been focused on it for the whole day.

This is in part why I think maximizing low tide is important.

Big picture, I think in order to have any hope of success, I'll probably need to work up an extensive list/map of very specific species locations (in some cases right down to the individual plant or lichen) with a focus on finding what I can efficiently visit for at least several hundred species.

One thing I'm considering is a mostly close to home route (minimizing travel time) that I walk (or maybe have a bike for parts of my travel). Within roughly 1 mile of my house, I have documented approximately 450 species of plants (including non-vascular) and lichens - and most of those should be reliably found in the same place from year to year.

That still doesn't get me even halfway there, however. I'm sure there are many additional lichens and non-vascular plants I have not yet observed (or identified), so perhaps it's not unreasonable to think that I might be able to get to 500 or even 600 species in these groups within that mile radius. If I can add another 200-300 between the beach and misc. animals (birds, and terrestrial invertebrates) or fungi, (which doesn't seem implausible) then I'm starting to get close.

If I get serious about this, it will be interesting to start mapping out the species and getting a sense of the logistics (in terms of route and time). An advantage of doing it close to home is I can just walk from my house (and so it would be easy to work on the searching and mapping). On the other hand, density of diversity matters, and I may need to look elsewhere.

In the end, the 1000 species in a day thing is really pretty arbitrary. For me, it's more about the process of really getting to know my place (and the neighbors who share it with me). I guess I just don't think it's possible to come anywhere close to this goal without really having a pretty good awareness of place, and that's what I am really after.

Posted by gwark over 1 year ago (Flag)
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Agreed on the effort invested in knowing a place is more important a number milestone. It's a fun milestone/aspiration to think through, though, on how one might attempt it. It would be a herculean effort, something akin to attempting a mountain ascent that took months of preparation, route testing, logistical planning and possibly a team of people. I love the spirit of it. Like mountain climbing, you'd also probably consider issues of assisted/unassisted in terms of other people helping detect and flag species for you. The lichens and non-vascular plants might give some reliability in terms of consistently locating them, but I would think the intertidal introduces some randomness regarding whether the more rare species are present and found that particular day. Same with terrestrial inverts.

@sambiology have you ever attempted a big day like this with a certain milestone for unique taxa in mind?

Posted by muir over 1 year ago (Flag)
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Yippee! Factors of 10! :) We do like numbers, don't we?!?

So, I agree that 'knowing' a place is crucially important, and super fun too. @bouteloua showed me the neat filter for the species documented in an area that I've not yet observed... (&unobserved_by_user_id=)

When I look at the species not yet documented by muir in Anchorage County:
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?hrank=species&place_id=1794&subview=grid&unobserved_by_user_id=muir&view=species

More plants need your camera focus, my friend! ;)

As for a 'big day' -- I've tried to do a few of these, but I've not gotten out of the 500ish species area. Bugs and plants are my main interest so on these days, I almost ignore most of the vertebrates because they take too long to chase after! ;) It's a fun challenge. On those 'city nature challenge days' I try to get a few hundred unique species each day.

Maybe sometime this spring I may try to get a 'big day' with no rest and no bathroom breaks. ;)

Posted by sambiology over 1 year ago (Flag)
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Guilty as charged re plants. Some of those unobserved species are even invasive species that I've paid people good money to remove from my backyard. How embarrassing. I've never seen that tool before. Very useful and thank you Cassi!

@gwark here are your Sitka nemeses https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?hrank=species&place_id=13401&subview=grid&unobserved_by_user_id=gwark&view=species

Does that check out?

Posted by muir over 1 year ago (Flag)
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I suspect intertidal at a reasonably diverse location around here is good for 200-300 species (at least for someone who knows it well - I'm not up to that level just yet), even with the randomness of moving critters. A separate, but related habitat can be found in harbors on submerged lines and such. It's hard to say how many more species that might add, but I would guess at least 50-100 (and it has the advantage of being available at any time).

Regardless, for sure there is more randomness in the critters that can move easily - some days are better than others in terms of finding them. It should be interesting to see how much I would need to rely on them to get to the target.

I have wondered about assistance. My kids did help me a little bit on a couple of the days (mostly they did their own things while they were out with me, but did find me a handful of things to photograph which I would not have otherwise observed).

My personal aesthetic would be to mostly do it on my own, and I don't think it would be nearly so satisfying to have a significant number of species found/flagged for me by others since it's more about my own awareness of and/or connection to place.

That said, I think there's a separate more team-oriented pursuit that could also be fun, like the birding big-day (friendly) competitions.

A step back from that, is the question of getting help with keeping track of what I've already done (and have yet to do). Remembering what I've made observations of (or not) turns out to be somewhat challenging as the day goes on. On each attempt so far, there have been quite a few common things which I could easily have observed without going out of my way at all, but I just forgot to do them (or assumed at some point that I already had). For that reason, some sort of checklist (organized by habitat) would probably be good, but that's just one more thing to fuss with, and it could be helpful to have a helper (or multiple helpers throughout the day) keeping track of the checklist.

Another aspect I've been considering is support in terms of logistics. At one extreme is doing it all on foot, but beyond that, do I want to be entirely self-supported logistically, providing my own transportation (whether car, bicycle, or on foot) exclusively, or am I okay with others shuttling me (or my car/bicycle) from location to location to expedite transitions between habitats with minimal need for back tracking.

I feel like all of these are aesthetic questions, and for me, my answers come down to context. For reasons I mentioned, I'm disinclined to have help in finding/flagging species (outside of a team sort of set up). For the other questions, I think it would depend on how public I made my effort. If I was doing it as some sort of fundraiser (for example, getting folks to pledge $ per species in donations to a good related cause), that feels like more of a community thing, and I would be more inclined to have support along for the trip. So far it's been more of a personal quest, and has been something I've been inclined to have minimal direct support with during my attempts so far.

Posted by gwark over 1 year ago (Flag)
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My 5k taxa milestone has been reached! Eight months after I posted this journal entry, ~360 additional taxon have been recorded to my iNat account--many from old observations being IDed to new-to-me species and other taxa. As of today (27-Mar-20), I am at 19,540 observations and 5,003 unique taxa. Cheers!

Posted by muir about 1 year ago (Flag)
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Nice work! I'm slowly creeping towards my 2k species milestone in just about as many total observations as you. I'm hoping to reach it sometime this year.

Posted by gwark about 1 year ago (Flag)
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Some day, when we grow up, we might get to @silversea_starsong 's level. :)

Posted by sambiology about 1 year ago (Flag)
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Be afraid of the thought I still have a few years of backlog to upload, too! In all honesty, it would be very possible to beat me if you had easy access to a vehicle, and regular time.

Posted by silversea_starsong about 1 year ago (Flag)
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Congrats, @muir! That's a nice thing to celebrate when you can't leave home. Hope you're all staying safe & sane.

Posted by carrieseltzer about 1 year ago (Flag)

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